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FAA Drone Regulations Fail to Propel Deliveries

It has been a little over four months since the Federal Aviation Administration issued regulations relating to the operation of commercial unmanned small aircraft, i.e., drones. While opening up some drone uses, major commercial retailers, such as Amazon, are disappointed that some restrictions remain which, from a practical standpoint, still prohibit the use of drones to deliver even small packages.

The good news for many businesses and farmers is that a person wanting to obtain a license to operate a drone no longer needs a pilot's license. Instead of spending scores of hours and thousands of dollars on actual flight training, companies can have their employees take a written test which is geared toward drone operation rather than piloting an aircraft. Even more surprising is that anyone 16 years of age or older can take the test. (That's right: In Pennsylvania, you may soon be more likely to get clipped by a drone operated by a teenager than a car operated by teenager.)

The second major regulation to draw a generally positive response is a change as to where drones can be operated. Before the regulations came out, drones could not be operated withing 500 feet--vertically, horizontally or diagonally--of any person on the ground. The new regulation takes the opposite approach: Drones cannot now be operated more than 400 feet above the ground. This regulation demonstrates a significant shift as to FAA safety priorities. The FAA regulators' focus appears to be on preventing accidents caused by drones interfering with commercial aircraft and other airborne transport objects. The FAA is counting primarily on the drone operators themselves to be careful of people and property on the ground.

To counter the safety concerns regarding people and property on or near the ground, the FAA has banned nighttime drone operations, issued a regulation prohibiting drones from flying directly over individuals, and instituted a requirement that drone operators keep the drones within their physical sightline. (Nevertheless, I doubt it will be long before negligence actions are being brought against companies and their drone operators who have allowed their drones to bang into people and property on the ground.)

The ban on nighttime drone usage and the sightline restriction are, of course, the major concern of companies which are anxious to use drones to deliver packages. Though the FAA has indicated that it will be considering blanket waivers of certain restrictions, it will probably be some time before we will have our birthday and holiday presents delivered by drones.

-----Ken Milner

Categories: General, Business Law, Drones